Belfast Telegraph

Progress being made on schools with building defects, Education Minister says

Building company WBS, now facing legal action from the Department of Education, says it will vigorously contest any litigation.

Education Minister Joe McHugh says remediation work for schools with defects is under way (Niall Carson/PA)
Education Minister Joe McHugh says remediation work for schools with defects is under way (Niall Carson/PA)

By Aoife Moore, PA

The Education Minister says substantial progress is being made on schools found to have structural defects across Ireland.

The Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh said on Tuesday that significant improvement has been made on the remediation programme for 40 schools constructed by Western Building Systems (WBS).

Tyrone-based company WBS, which was contracted to build a number of schools across the state by the government, is now subject to court proceedings after alleged defects were found in a number of institutions.

The building company, now facing legal action from the Department of Education, says it will vigorously contest any litigation.

A significant programme of work took place during the summer 2019 in relation to the 40 schools in which structural and fire safety deficiencies were identified.

Mr McHugh confirmed structural remediation work has taken place on 14 schools “bringing them up to the highest possible standard and allowing for the removal of precautionary measures”.

The bulk of the remainder of the Schools Remediation Programme is scheduled to be undertaken on a phased basis over 2020 and 2021.

The Department has confirmed that about 40 million euro has been spent this year on the remediation programme, covering the cost of investigations, precautionary measures, fire safety upgrades and structural repairs.

Mr McHugh said: “The cost to date is less than was initially estimated and this is largely due to the well-managed way in which the remediation programme has been handled.

“We don’t have an aggregated sum for the completed work when it’s finished, but up to now it’s 40m euro, which is below what we were putting out in terms of expectations but the big challenge was time, and live settings with students in school which is why we had to maximise summer and holiday time.”

Mr McHugh added that schools, teachers, students and parents should be assured that the Government is committed to bringing the schools to the highest possible standard.

“We are also committed to planned construction projects being delivered over the course of 2018, 2019 and 2020 which will provide 70,000 school places and the 29 building projects being progressed at third level,” he said.

“This will not affect school building for other projects, we have ringfenced funding up to 8.8 billion up to 2027, and specifically to next year, the 2020 programme, we’ll have 60 major buildings which were identified earlier in this term, to ensure we’ll have 30,000 new permanent additional accommodations, and the work programme we’ve had in place will continue to go ahead.

“This approach ensures that the cost of the remediation has had no impact on school and third level building projects.”

The Department say they continue to liaise with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office on the ongoing legal process related to the 40 schools built by Western Building Systems.

“In relation to the commercial courts, and I don’t want to get into any ground that would jeopardise work going on with Attorney General, there will be a court hearing on December 2, but is ongoing, and I’ve been consistent in saying where responsibility lies, it should be followed up,” Mr McHugh added.

The next steps for the Schools Remediation Programme are to complete the bulk of structural remediation works in 2020 and 2021 and to continue the phased implementation of the fire safety programmes.

PA

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